Civil Responsibilities Movement By M.O. Thirunarayanan
Introduction Members of many minority groups around the world participate in violent or nonviolent confrontation with authorities to assert their rights. Freedom loving citizens also rise against their authoritarian rulers periodically. The need to assert one’s rights as a citizen seems to be universal. People act at lightning speeds when it comes to exercising their individual and group rights. When members of a group, especially those who belong to a minority group, are treated in a discriminatory manner, leaders of that group often step forward to expose and take action to end such discrimination. They also often clamor for equal rights. The civil rights of all people should be accepted and guaranteed by agents of all forms of governments. People belonging to different groups should also respect the rights of other groups of people. When such rights are trampled upon, people should and often do rise up and protest. Civil Rights Movement In the United States of America, the actions taken over time by people to protect the rights of a minority group, has been labeled the “Civil Rights Movement.” After many years of struggle marked by social, political and legal actions, a member of a minority group was first elected, and then four years later, re-elected as the president of the country. Such an accomplishment would not have been possible without the help and the votes of a significant proportion of people belonging to the majority group. The election of a person belonging to a minority group to the presidency of the country has not resulted in the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Sporadic
incidents of discrimination against members of a minority group have given life to a once widespread and influential movement that over the years has lost some of its momentum. Civil Responsibilities Movement For a long time in this country racial overtones have dominated the movement for civil rights for members of a minority group. Anyone who dared to speak up or question or even point out some of the anti-social behavior of the members of the minority group was dubbed a racist and summarily dismissed. Many people have lost their jobs or social status and influence because of speaking up, thus causing fear among others who would otherwise be willing to speak up, and thereby creating a wall of silence on issues that do not portray members of the groups in a positive light. Currently a small crack seems to be appearing in the wall, which will hopefully grow bigger and break the wall so real issues and not just politically correct ones can be discussed and suitable action can be taken to improve the legal, social, political, economic, civil, and other rights of the minority group as a whole. Currently the social and political debate is shifting from its exclusive focus on civil rights to what can be called “civil responsibilities.” Majority or minority groups cannot just go on asserting their rights without also accepting their responsibilities. I think it is time to start a “Civil Responsibilities Movement” in this country. Members of a peaceful, non-violent Civil Responsibilities Movement should act to encourage all groups of people to behave in more responsible ways. Using tactics similar to those employed by leaders of rights movements, such as peaceful protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and filing lawsuits, leaders of the Civil Responsibilities Movement should over a period of time make society a better place for all groups of people. Instead of the movement being spearheaded by a few leaders, every law abiding citizen should take a leadership role in the movement. Civil responsibilities are the prerogative of each and every citizen. Participants of the Civil Responsibility Movement could do the following and more: •
Demonstrate in front of a house where a drug dealer lives.
Protest in front of a school whose students do not perform well on state mandated tests.
Hold a vigil in front of a house where a mugger lives.
March around corporate offices whose managers practice discrimination in hiring and promoting their employees.
Peacefully gather in front of houses where individuals known to have committed crimes live.
Peacefully occupy a police station where an officer who has wrongfully assaulted a citizen works. Conclusion
A combination of emphasis on civil rights and civil responsibilities is necessary to ensure the freedoms of all citizens. In any country, depending on the situation, it may be necessary at some points in time to place more of an emphasis on rights of citizens than on their responsibilities. At other times more emphasis will have to be placed on enabling people to accept their responsibilities than on asserting their rights. Over time every country and society will find its own unique equilibrium between the rights and responsibilities of people.